Thursday, August 09, 2007

View From The Away End

Back in May, we asked three fellow bloggers and fans of opposing clubs for their reflections on our fortunes during the 2006-7 season, and their thoughts on how the summer months might pan out for us. Now, with the new season almost upon us, they give their verdicts on activities at St James' Park since then, and speculate on our prospects for the forthcoming campaign.

Danny (Bitter & Blue)

As ever it seems, the new season brings a sense of new hope and anticipation to Newcastle. Previous seasons of struggle and incident could be a distant memory as a new broom has swept through St James' Park this summer.

First, Sam Allardyce rolled up as the new manager – and whilst not endearing himself to Bolton fans in the process, was seemingly not a universally popular choice at his new club either. Fears of aggressive long ball tactics are valid, but as he built a better side and had more talent at his disposal at Bolton, he did adapt their style – whilst not quite abandoning his principles though.

If he didn’t realise the scale of the job at the time, he must do now as although he has been backed in the transfer market to an extent, he has the cloud hanging over the possible futures of Owen and Martins.

Being an abrasive type, it didn’t take him long to butt heads with the new ownership group either – questioning Chris Mort’s footballing credentials recently.

As for his transfer activity – I don’t think too many will be spilling tears over the departures, even with Sibierski’s over-achieving last season as Scott Parker never achieved what was hoped (was he overrated even at Chelsea?) and as for Titus Bramble, enough said.

Players in – you have Joey Barton from ourselves before he suffered the metatarsal curse. He will provide energy, passion and drive for the midfield with the occasional off-field incident or skirmish, but ask most City fans and we were sorry to see him go and will undoubtedly miss him. He will be a good acquisition. Geremi will be a solid pick-up and Viduka perhaps as well offering depth in attack but I don’t see the logic with the Smith signing, as in attack this is one area you are fairly well covered – unless he is again to experience a position conversion back into midfield.

I can’t confess to knowing much about Rozehnal or Enrique but defence has long been an area where you have tried (and largely failed) to improve.

There is potential there this season, but perhaps like ourselves this will become more of a transition one whilst new managers (and owners) get a feel for the club and continue with the rebuilding. Allardyce though looks to be the best manager you have had in recent times and short of the new owners not being keen and wanting to bring in their own man, he has to be given time. Yes, at times it will be ugly, and this season there will be ups and downs as he instils himself on the team but given time (and money of course) I’m certain he can establish you as a perennial top six side challenging for the European positions.

This season it maybe a step too far though, and I see a mid-table finish but progress being made.

Pete (Round And White)

So Big Sam, he hasn't disappointed so far. With a bit of cash behind him and some sensible purchases the future looks bright; Viduka on a free? Bargain! Although Alan Smith and Geremi ... bargains? Hmmm ... we'll see. The same question might be posed of Allardyce's ability to tame Joey Barton (if the latter stays out of jail that is).

While his defensive acquisitions look promising, there's definitely a factor of the unknown there. José Enrique and Claudio Caçapa have good reputations, but they may need time to acclimatise to the cliché that is "the pace of the Premiership". PSG's David Rozehnal for £2.9m could be real steal though.

Nevertheless, while there's been a thorough clearing-out of the defence (Bramble, Moore, Bernard, etc), Allardyce is placing a lot of faith in who's been left behind (Ramage, Edgar, Huntingdon). Aside from the question of defence, the team looks solid provided that injuries don't rob them of Owen, Given, Emre and so (once they've returned from injury).

From a neutral's point of view, it'll be fascinating to see whether Phil Gartside's hint that Little Sam was behind Bolton's success is in any way correct. Probably just sour grapes though, eh, Magpie fans? Will Newcastle play like his old team, or will we be dazzled by Total Football? Either way, Allardyce will need time to shape the team and it'd be shame to see him walk out of the managerial revolving door that has been installed at St James' Park in recent seasons too soon.

Predictions time. Newcastle will take over Bolton's place in the Premiership, but 6th or 7th season after season isn't going to be good enough for the board in a few season's time. Still, I imagine that for now, an improvement on 13th and a cup run will be most welcome.

Shane (How-You-Say-It)

(Written last week)

In May, I was feeling broadly optimistic for Newcastle, and I was suggesting that the biggest summer signing would be a defender or midfielder – a leader who Allardyce would see as being cut from the same mould as himself.

As I write this, I’m listening to a very impressive and straightforward Alan Smith discussing his £6 million move from Manchester United. That, of course, is on the back of the capture of the Czech defender David Rozehnal (from PSG, £2.9 million), Geremi (from Chelsea, free), Joey Barton (from Man City, £5.8 million), and Mark Viduka (from Middlesbrough, Free). Understandably, speculation surrounds other possible signings – and I’m sure that there will be more by the end of August. In addition, backroom changes have seen Mike Ashley usher Mr Shepherd to his box with a cool £35+ million for comfort. Still though, Shepherd casts the evil eye over Michael Owen, who is reminded – as if he needed to be – that he still owes the club.

Thank you, Mr Shepherd, for that statement of the bleeding obvious. In summary, not the quietest of close seasons, but still Sam Allardyce wants more – probably a good sign. In terms of what we make of this, we have to look elsewhere around the Premiership. How does this compare to other clubs’ activities?

There has been a lot of movement – but very little of which has been for many millions of pounds, and very little of which has caused a real stir. On the whole, Newcastle have spent wisely – strengthening their squad, not overspending and not panic-buying. The departures of Scott Parker (to West Ham, £7 million) and Kieron Dyer (I presume to West Ham, for a similar fee) should not cause alarm.

For the forthcoming season, I expect Newcastle to sustain a bid for UEFA Cup
qualification. From The Away End, fans will think of Newcastle as among the "second tier" of the Premiership – a group that also includes Tottenham, West Ham, Blackburn, Portsmouth and Manchester City. Many of the Geordie faithful will quickly forget how desperate things have been in recent seasons. This will become obvious as the first injury of the season yields a barrage of complaints via Five Live’s 606 programme. But more fittingly, there will be serious progress in both cup competitions.

And then, as I review what is written above, I remember: this is Newcastle that we’re talking about - anything could happen!

Premiership: 6th.
FA Cup: Quarter-finals.
Carling Cup: Semi-finals.
Joey Barton: Fine and community service.

* * * * *

Thanks to Danny, Pete and Shane for their thoughts. Indeed - anything could happen, and probably will...


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